West Africa Discovery website

Please visit the West Africa Discovery website to learn more about West Africa and our selection of sustainable tourism tours, accommodations and voluteer projects.

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy New Year from West Africa Discovery!

Wow, what an exciting first three months! The whole concept for West Africa Discovery has been thought of for some time, but 2009 has been a landmark year for us; the year that all the ideas and concepts have become a physical and online reality. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s never been a chore. Things don’t always run smoothly when starting up a business from scratch, especially when everything is run on a tight budget. However, over the last three months the team have surpassed obstacles, solved mind-boggling problems and have come up with some great ideas to smooth everything out to a point where we feel comfortable running a platform in a successful way for our clients and customers; where we can offer the best of the Responsible Tourism projects based in West Africa.

We have listed our first Responsible Tourism projects, created a database of information to raise awareness towards the region, created partnerships with organisations that share the same values and participated in a successful World Travel Market event. We have welcomed two ‘local experts’ to the Ghana and Nigeria countries to the team and we are ready for 2010 to pursue our mission to be the first port of call for tourists looking to visit Africa by offering them unique accommodation, tour and volunteering ideas which benefit local communities in the destination whilst respecting the natural, cultural, social and historical heritages.

On behalf of myself and the team at West Africa Discovery I wish all of you a Happy New Year for 2010, and may your current and future projects be successful.

Thomas Armitt
Founder & Operating Director

Visit www.westafricadiscovery.co.uk, and contact me on thomas@westafricadiscovery.co.uk

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

West Africa Christmas time... Baobab and palm wine

In the UK we usually associate Christmas with family, eating and drinking (often to excess!), giving presents, Father Christmas and a Christmas tree. But how is the tradition celebrated in West Africa, a region of the World where Christianity is at its freshest, where missionaries have only been preaching for about 150 years?

West Africa is a culturally diverse region; comprised of 16 countries, where Islam and Christianity dominate thousands of different tribes speaking hundreds of different languages. Therefore it is unsurprising that Christmas is celebrated in a multitude of different and colourful ways. West Africa is a very religious place. Belief is central to every household whether it is for Allah, Jehovah, Jesus, or the multitude of gods founds in the more animistic religions. Regardless of deity many have been taking Christmas up as an annual celebration where prayer, family, parties and merrymaking play an important role.

All over West Africa, from Senegal to Cameroon, Nigeria to Sierra Leone, parties of different sizes and significances are initiated on either the 24th or 25th December. Even in the poorer countries, an effort is made by all to carry out the tradition and join the celebrations.

According to Afrol News, Sierra Leonean celebrations include partying and ancient local traditions. Like in most countries outside Africa, pre-Christian traditions and popular costumes have been mixed with religious sermons, making the Sierra Leonean yuletide quite unique. Ancient and spectacular masquerades and masking ceremonies now play a major part in Christmas celebrations in Freetown, where the majority of people participate in the colourful party. In the cities, the police musical bands and other bands play Christmas songs in the streets during all December, and nobody escapes the yuletide feeling.

Further North, in Senegal, dominated at 95 percent by the Islamic religion, but with a minority of Christians around Dakar and Casamance in the South, the atmosphere of Christmas is still present.

I remember being in Dakar a week before Christmas, and the local petrol stations and shops had paintings of Christmas trees, Father Christmas and snow on the windows and walls. Decorations were everywhere, and people were greeting me with "Merry Christmas". Maybe the reason for this is because of the increasing presence of televisions in the wealthier households where the most popular programmes are either dubbed American or French sit-coms where Christmas is the main theme during the end of the year. I also heard that even the Islam practicing households hand out gifts on the 24th and 25th of December.

Nigeria, on the other hand, is a country where Christmas is one of, or even maybe the most important event of the year on the festivity calendar because of the high concentration of Christian practitioners.

Taiwo, our local expert for Nigeria, explains how festivities are carried out in his home country:

“Christmas is a unique festival in Nigeria unlike any other part of the world. Christmas Day is a public holiday that is celebrated mainly in the southern and eastern parts of Nigeria.

Nigerians have special traditions they employ to celebrate Christmas. Almost everyone goes to church on Christmas Day. Weeks before the day, people buy lots of hens, turkeys, goats and cows. Children hover around the beasts, taunting and staring at them.

There are feverish preparations for travel, holiday, and exchange of gifts, carolling and all manner of celebrations.

On Christmas Eve, traditional meals are prepared. In Yoruba, such meals usually include Iyan, (pounded yam) eba or amala, served with peppery stewed vegetables. People find themselves eating this same meal three to four times on that day, as they are offered it at every house they visit; and according to Yorùbá customs, it is considered rude to decline to eat when offered food. Other meals include rice served with chicken stew; some families would include a delicacy called Moin-moin; which are blended black eyed beans, mixed with vegetable oil and diced liver, prawns, chicken, fish and beef. The concoction is then wrapped in large leaves and then steamed until cooked.

Another tradition is that of decorating homes (compounds) and churches with both woven and unwoven palm fronds, Christmas trees and Christmas lights. There are the festive jubilations on the streets, the loud crackling of fireworks and luminous starry fire crackers going off, traditional masquerades on stilts parading about and children milling about displaying their best clothes, or Christmas presents.

There are no other celebrations that compare to Christmas festivities in Nigeria, where everyone can personalise their own festival, and one family’s enthusiasm merges with others; both physically and psychologically, creating a universe of fun and bonhomie.”

North West of Nigeria, in Southern Mali, tolerance and community feel dominate the festivities in Dogon country, where Islam, Christianity and African religions exist side by side in most villages. The blending of masquerades from an ancient death cult and traditional songs and dances with midnight masses and a local lamb dish inspired from biblical tales, are common place.

And these are only the tip of the iceberg. West Africa comprises so much diversity that it is impossible to pinpoint every Christmas celebration in the region, however in terms of experiencing them; there is of course the possibility to visit the countries to discover these festivities first hand.

According to a Nigerian blog, “West African rich Christmas traditions even have it in them to become a tourist attraction and should be a serious candidate for Unesco's World Heritage list.” So maybe some of the tour operators in West Africa could think about incorporating these cultural elements into some of their tours, as long as the local communities benefit economically and the destinations heritages are respected.

Visit West Africa Discovery to learn more about West Africa

Contact me at thomas@westafricadiscovery.co.uk

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

How climate change is affecting West Africa

The Copenhagen talks on climate change were suspended on Tuesday due to a walk out by the African union. Tensions rose because the African delegates feel that the Kyoto Protocol is being undermined by the richest developed countries. The Kyoto Protocol gives poorer countries different goals to richer countries in terms of carbon emission reduction, allowing them a better chance to develop. The proposed ‘all on the same level’ stance risks undermining the underdeveloped countries’ development efforts in favour of the richer countries’ financial models.

This made me think, “How could West Africa be, or more to the point, how is it currently being affected by climate change?”

Unsurprisingly, as I had already done some research on the subject for a previous blog piece on deforestation, the findings were rather negative. West Africa is comprised of some of the poorest countries on the planet, and the populations living in the region will no doubt be affected on a larger scale than those of the more developed countries of the world. Not only are these predictions, but they are already a reality and can be witnessed firsthand.

The effects of climate change: Past, Present and Future

A report by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere predicts that world sea levels could rise by up to 2 metres by 2100, with worrying signs of a thaw in Antarctica. "It is now estimated that sea levels will rise between 0.5 and 1.5 meters by 2100, and in the worst case by 2.0 meters. This will affect many hundreds of millions of people living in coastal areas," they said in a report.

But on most of the coastal areas of West Africa, the signs of erosion are already too apparent to ignore. Chunks of the coast line have been crumbling away long before the Kyoto protocol was even initiated.

An article written by Ibe and Quelennac in 1989 demonstrates this: "Coastal erosion already has been reported to reach 23-30 m annually in some parts of coastal West Africa"; and coupled with the effects of pollution and environmental disregard, the damage is even greater as explained in a report by the WRI in 1990; "In Cote d'Ivoire, high erosion rates have been reported in areas off the Abidjan harbor. It also is estimated that about 40% of the mangroves in Nigeria had been lost by 1980; about 60% of mangrove areas in Senegal also have been lost as a result of mangrove clearing, coastal erosion, and increases in the salinity of water and soil."

Moving inland, the effects of climate change will, according to a recent BBC news article, increase the instances of 'megadroughts' which will affect the lives of millions of West Africans whose alimentary needs are reliant on agriculture and the yearly rainfalls during the 3-4 month rainy season. The region's most recent dry episode was the Sahel drought which claimed at least 100,000 lives, and perhaps as many as one million in the 1970s and 80s; but with the likelihood of man-made green house gasses exacerbating the length of droughts to come, the prospect of coping with a century long 'megadrought' is daunting.

From one climate change engendered extreme to another, floods have become common place in western Africa. Due to the history of droughts in the area, the soil has lost its absorbance qualities and with heavier but sparser rainfalls, communities all over West Africa have been experiencing the devastation of these natural disasters. This year alone, some 350,000 people have been affected in six countries. The United Nations reported that Burkina Faso was the worst affected, and the floods also spread to Ghana, Niger, Guinea, Senegal and Benin. But these are not recent events.

Over the years people have been suffering on a large scale. In 2007, UN aid agencies reported that severe flooding killed some 300 people and displaced 800,000.

Not only are these catastrophic events detrimental to the communities in the short-term, but it also has a more lasting effect. Livelihoods are destroyed in an instance, infrastructure is damaged beyond repair, crops and livestock are drowned and not to mention the water-borne diseases that thrive after the flood water has dissipated.

“It’s a very worrisome situation that further weakens already impoverished populations,” said Hervé Ludovic de Lys, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in West Africa. “Natural disasters have lasting consequences that will have an impact for decades to come and take us back to square one in terms of the fight against poverty.”

The OCHA has noted that climate change is driving these natural disasters, with the region possibly paying a high human cost due to global warming. In response to this situation, during the current UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, West African nations are holding frequent high-level and expert meetings on the issue.

COP15 talks to find a solution

In response to the growing emphasis that climate change and manmade green-house gas exacerbated global warming is actually playing a major role in increasing natural disaster instances in the West African region, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has seen a need for ”drafting a new legal instrument aimed at protecting people displaced by the effects of climate change and who are now outside their country of origin,” according to a declaration from an ECOWAS conference held in the Togolese capital Lome.

The declaration further calls for the ”establishment of a special fund on the impact of climate change on the affected populations” and for the concern by the Western African states over human rights issues in relation to climate change to be included ”in the formulation of a common African position during the Copenhagen talks."

The current debate

During this testing time for our planet and its inhabitants, the COP15 conference has been hailed as a big step forward towards the unity of the world’s perspective towards making a change in order to counteract the effects of man-made greenhouse gas exacerbated climate change.

However, it is the poorest and most underdeveloped countries that will be most affected by the effects of carbon emissions that the developed countries have been pumping into the atmosphere for more than a century.

Let us hope that an agreement will be made which will take into consideration all the ‘more complicated’ elements of the climate change debate and not only the financial stability of already thriving nations.


I wanted to end this post by a quote which reflects the issues of climate change and came across an array of very meaningful ones such as Michael Jacksons ‘Heal the World’ classic and Lenny Henry's "The global warming scenario is pretty grim. I'm not sure I like the idea of polar bears under a palm tree." quote. However, I feel that this one by Barack Obama encompasses the situation that we, as Earth's inhabitants, find ourselves in:

“The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our own peril. There may still be disputes about exactly how much we're contributing to the warming of the earth's atmosphere and how much is naturally occurring, but what we can be scientifically certain of is that our continued use of fossil fuels is pushing us to a point of no return. And unless we free ourselves from a dependence on these fossil fuels and chart a new course on energy in this country, we are condemning future generations to global catastrophe.”

Visit www.westafricadiscovery.co.uk for more information on our web portal.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The World Cup effect: West African role models, Charity and Sports Tourism

West Africa in the World Cup

The 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa next year will give African football teams a great opportunity to shine on the global stage (an estimated 715.1 million people watched the 2006 final). West Africa Discovery greeted news of Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria’s qualifications with big smiles. After some friendly banter amongst the team about who we would be supporting next summer, we setup a poll to ask which team has the best chance of succeeding. My personal vote went to the Nigeria Super Eagles; it is always nice to see the underdogs succeed! The fact that half of the African teams that have qualified are West African goes to show the region’s dominance of African football.

On Friday afternoon I logged straight onto the sports news to check out the draw for the group stages. Obviously I was excited about England’s draw, but also wanted to check out who our West African teams had got. The draw for the group stages could prove to be challenging for the West African teams with Côte d'Ivoire drawing previous world cup winners, Brazil and Portugal, and the less formidable North Korea. Ghana was the only qualifying team to progress past the group stage in Germany 2006. They also have a tough draw facing Germany, Serbia and Australia. Nigeria who only just about qualified, face Argentina, Greece and South Korea. No easy draw for all teams concerned, but with a little luck who knows what could happen.

Of the six African teams, Cote d'Ivoire, with their world class striker Didier Drogba are the favourites for the competition. Didier Drogba plays for Chelsea in the English Premier League and has arguably the highest global profile amongst African players. Anyone who has watched Drogba in action will know that Côte d'Ivoire will be reliant on his strength and pace to get them through to the knockout stages.

Football and Charity

In the United Kingdom Drogba has a reputation of two halves. On one hand he is viewed as a talented player and goal scorer, but on the other he is can be viewed rather more negatively for being light footed and diving too often. Regardless of this, something that is less widely spoken about in the UK is his charity work and role model status for his native country. In 2007 he was appointed ‘Goodwill Ambassador’ by the United Nations Development Programme.

Drogba recently signed a new advertising deal with Pepsi worth £3million. He has pledged the entire amount to setting up a hospital and orphanage in Côte d'Ivoire that hopes to be up and running by the end of 2010. The hospital is part of the Didier Drogba Foundation - set up by the 31 year-old last year - and as well as being able to accommodate upwards of 200 patients the centre will be an orphanage. Unsurprisingly, this has had great support throughout the football and international community. Gestures and actions like these show the positive effect that football and sport in general can have on the communities that most need this investment.

Another footballer working towards helping West Africa is Welsh star Craig Bellamy. Craig Bellamy is infamous in the English Premier League for falling out with referees, managers and teammates, and is generally portrayed in a negative light in the UK media. However, despite his short temper and moments of misjudgement, he has invested time and money to help support West African communities. After visiting Sierra Leone in 2007 he has since setup the Craig Bellamy Foundation. The foundation runs a successful academy that not only teaches sport but seeks to give an education to disadvantaged children in Sierra Leone.

Craig Bellamy’s work sits alongside other schemes such as the Right to Dream academy in Ghana and supports the Score4Africa Living Football scheme which aims to use football to build community centres.

The international sports industry is worth billions of pounds, and by combining with foundations and charities, its key stars are taking the right steps in funnelling some of the funds into development amongst African communities. Let’s hope West Africa continues to produce stars like Drogba who, despite living the high life in European teams, continue to give back to the communities that nurtured their talents.

The World Cup and Sports Tourism

The World Cup in South Africa also looks likely to continue the growing development of sports tourism. Nigeria and the United States have a collaboration that should enable more American tourists to visit Nigeria to watch, and participate in traditional and contemporary sports, and related tourism activities in Nigeria. After hearing about Nigerian sports development I investigated further and read an article in TourismROI. The article describes the construction of impressive sounding luxurious resorts that cater for sports enthusiasts and by the sounds of things will provide jobs and stimulate economic opportunities in the area. However, will constructions on such a major scale take into consideration the environmental surroundings of the resort?

I think the best method for ‘sports tourism’ that will have a direct impact on the community is through grassroots volunteer schemes. There are more and more possibilities for sports ‘voluntourism’ that can help local communities to learn new skills. Projects such as Real Gap allow volunteers to travel to Ghana and help the local community by being a coach and mentor to local kids. If these projects take into consideration the criteria outlined in the Cape Town, Kerala and Belize declarations on Responsible Tourism; then not only will the communities benefit, but also the natural, cultural, social and historical heritages will be respected.

Just as in the UK, the African nation loves football. Hosting the World Cup for the first time can only help to develop community schemes and help the football industry. In 2010 the African nation will be dreaming of their stars holding the cup aloft. Just imagine the size of the party if an African team were to be victorious, an event that would unite the hopes and dreams of an entire continent. With these dreams, we must continue to use sport as a means to secure a better tomorrow for Africa.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

West Africa Responsible Tourism Conference MBOKA 2009. 3 - 5 December 2009, Dakar, Senegal

From the 3rd – 5th December 2009, the “Association of Small Scale Enterprises in Tourism” (ASSET) in The Gambia and the “National Organisation for Tourism Integration in Senegal” (ONITS) in Senegal will be presenting the 3rd edition of the Senegambia Tourism Fair MBOKA 2009. This is a unique opportunity to showcase and promote the Senegambian Tourism Industry to an international audience.

Tourism is playing an increasingly important part in the development of the sub-Saharan region, not only in economic terms but also in the preservation of their rich cultural heritage and their environment. To develop tourism and indeed the whole economy along sustainable guidelines the Senegambia tourism industry has taken into consideration socio-economic, environmental and economic principles.

For this edition of MBOKA 2009, the organisers have decided on the theme of “Women Entrepreneurship”. Daouda Niang, director at ASSET explains: “Women play an ever increasing active part in developing our economy and to foster and promote this trend, this years’ Fair has been themed accordingly”.

He adds: “Tourism must be seen as an important and integral sector of the economic development of our country – all sectors of industry are inter-linked and benefit from a thriving tourist trade”.

This stance towards sustainable economic development through sustainable tourism is a beacon for the rest of the West African region pointing towards what can be achieved through sustainable means. This being, other countries may just follow suit to make West Africa the next destination for the responsible tourist looking for new horizons, awe-inspiring experiences and learning opportunities whilst giving them the option to give back to the destination they visit.

Visit the Senegambia Travel Market website for more information on MBOKA 2009.

Please visit www.westafricadiscovery.com for more information on our web portal.